14. Prestige lasts at best four generations in one
It should be known that the world of the elements and all it contains comes into being and decays. This applies to both its essences and its conditions. Minerals, plants, all the animals including man, and the other created things come into being and decay, as one can see with one's own eyes. The same applies to the conditions that affect created things, and especially the conditions that affect man. Sciences grow up and then are wiped out. The same applies to crafts, and to similar things.
Prestige is an accident that affects human beings. It comes into being and decays inevitably. No human being exists who possesses an unbroken pedigree of nobility from Adam down to himself. The only exception was made for the Prophet, as a special act of divine grace to him, and as a measure designed to safeguard his true character.
Nobility originates in the state of being outside, as has been said.83 That is, being outside of 84 leadership and nobility and being in a vile, humble station, devoid of prestige. This means that all nobility and prestige is preceded by the nonexistence of nobility and prestige, as is the case with every created thing.
It reaches its end in a single family within four successive generations. This is as follows: The builder of the glory (of the family) knows what it cost him to do the work, and he keeps the qualities that created his glory and made it last. The son who comes after him had personal contact with his father and thus learned those things from him. However, he is inferior in this respect to (his father), in as much as a person who learns things through study is inferior to a person who knows them from practical application. The third generation must be content with imitation and, in particular, with reliance upon tradition. This member is inferior to him of the second generation, in as much as a person who relies (blindly) upon tradition is inferior to a person who exercises independent judgment.85
The fourth generation, then, is inferior to the preceding ones in every respect. This member has lost the qualities that preserved the edifice of their glory. He (actually) despises(those qualities). He imagines that the edifice was not built through application and effort. He thinks that it was something due his people from the very beginning by virtue of the mere fact of their (noble) descent, and not something that resulted from group (effort) and (individual) qualities. For he sees the great respect in which he is held by the people, but he does not know how that respect originated and what the reason for it was. He imagines that it is due to his descent and nothing else. He keeps away from those in whose group feeling he shares, thinking that he is better than they. He trusts that (they will obey him because) he was brought up to take their obedience for granted, and he does not know the qualities that made obedience necessary. Such qualities are humility (in dealing) with (such men) and respect for their feelings. Therefore, he considers them despicable, and they, in turn, revolt against him and despise him. They transfer (political) leadership from him and his direct lineage to some other related branch (of his tribe), in obedience to their group feeling, as we have stated. (They do so) after they have convinced themselves that the qualities of the (new leader) are satisfactory to them. His family then grows, whereas the family of the original (leader) decays and the edifice of his "house" collapses.
This is the case with rulers who have royal authority. It also is the case with all the "houses" of tribes, of amirs, and of everybody else who shares in a group feeling, and then also with the "houses" among the urban population. When one "house" goes down, another one rises in (another group of) the same descent. "If He wants them to disappear, He causes them to do so, and brings forth a new creation. This is not difficult for God." 86
The rule of four (generations) with respect to prestige usually holds true. It may happen that a "house" is wiped out, disappears, and collapses in fewer than four (generations), or it may continue unto the fifth and sixth (generations), though in a state of decline and decay. The four generations can be explained as the builder, the one who has personal contact with the builder, the one who relies on tradition, and the destroyer. There could not be fewer.
The fact that prestige lasts four generations is considered (in statements discussed) under the subject of praise and glorification. Muhammad said: "The noble son of the noble (father) of the noble (grandfather) of the noble (greatgrandfather): Joseph, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham." 87 This indicates that (Joseph) had reached the limit in glory.
In the Torah, there is the following passage: "God, your Lord, is powerful 88 and jealous, visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and the fourth (generations)." This shows that four generations in one lineage are the limit in extent of ancestral prestige.
The Kitab al-Aghani 89 reports, in the story of 'Uwayf al-Qawafi, that Khosraw asked an-Nu'man whether there was among the Arabs a tribe that was nobler than other tribes. And when the answer was yes, he asked: "In what respect (does such greater nobility show itself)?" An-Nu'man replied: "(In cases of men) with three successive ancestors who were leaders, and where the fourth generation, then, was perfect. The 'house' thus belongs to his tribe." 90 He looked for such people and found that the only ones that fulfilled the condition were the family of Hudhayfah b. Badr al-Fazari, the house of Qays; the family of Hajib b. Zurarah, the house of Tamim; the family of Dhu1-Jaddayn, the house of Shayban; and the family of al-Ash'ath b. Qays, of the Kindah.91 He assembled those clans and the families attached to them, and appointed impartial judges. Hudhayfah b. Badr stood up; then al-Ash'ath b. Qays, because of his relationship to an-Nu'man; then Bistam b. Qays of the Shayban; then flajib b. Zurarah; and then Qays b. 'Asim. They made long speeches. Khosraw (finally) said: "Each one of them is a chieftain who occupies his proper place."
Those "houses" were the ones that enjoyed the greatest reputation among the Arabs after the Hashimites. To them belonged also the house of the Banu ad-Dayyan,92 of the Banu1-Harith b. Ka'b, the house of the Yemen.
All this shows that prestige lasts at best four generations. And God knows better.